On this blog, I have read many moving accounts by parents of their path toward the “bottom” and their realization that they lacked the power to control or cure their sons’ addiction. I too have been to the “bottom.” It was a terrifying place and a humbling experience – but, though it was not something I would ever want to repeat, it was also terribly (I use that word deliberately) instructive.
For that reason, I don’t ever want to forget the dark chaos there. Climbing out of the “bottom” has involved finding a path toward serenity by working, consciously or not, the first three steps: accepting that one can’t control the addict/addiction (it’s unmanageable), and, in turn, relinquishing the attempt to control to a power greater than oneself, however one conceptualizes that.
Our son has been working his program at New Life House and has been sober for a little over a year. We are so grateful for this period of time to move the emphasis, as it says in “Understanding Ourselves,” from the addict to a place “where we do have some power – over our own lives.” I will admit that I felt almost instantly better – “serene” – once our son had arrived at New Life House. He was safe and sober for the first time in years. But I also realized this was not the serenity I was actually seeking. I needed the ability to face new challenges in all parts of our life in a new way, without some of the unhealthy coping mechanisms I had been relying on for most of my life. They are mechanisms many of us share – being overly “helpful” to our kids (a way to exercise control in disguise), being reluctant to draw appropriate boundaries (which appears to originate in fear of losing that illusory control), or setting up a cycle of expectations that turn into resentments. Then there’s the anger, fear, guilt and shame. Et cetera, et cetera.
Addressing these issues has meant moving on from the first three steps to the next three – a “searching and fearless” (I love that phrase) moral inventory, followed by a review of this inventory with another human being and with that power greater than oneself, and becoming willing to remove our shortcomings. Most people, I believe, do this with a sponsor, but I did it with a step group. This process has taken almost as long as our son has been sober, and I’m pretty sure will need to be repeated many more times.
I’m not ready to publish the results of my moral inventory, but I am ready to say that I’ve successfully identified issues and have had the opportunity to practice working on them with the help of my step group, who help to keep me honest, if not fearless. For fear, it turns out, is at the bottom of many of the issues I’m trying to address. It is implicated in anger, desire to control, avoidance, shame, guilt . . . et cetera.
It turns out to be pretty interesting to examine (in a searching way) the kinds of fears that motivate many of my actions. For example, I was angry when our son stole my Christmas money. My first analysis was that I was angry at myself for telling him where I had hidden that money, so I was really angry at my own stupidity. Looking closer, though, I can see that I was angry – very angry – also because he had never done something like that before, and I could no longer pretend that things were sort of normal. They were in an area of the unknown that was frightening and unmanageable. Accepting that was the first step toward managing my fear and the behaviors that flowed from it.
Working steps four through six illuminates how important steps one through three are. Radical acceptance, for example, helps to address fear. By the way, no one said any of this would be easy. But it has made a difference.